From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
The Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) has said the region would not vote along ethnic and religious lines in 2023.
Prof. Ango Abdullahi, former vice chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and chairman of the forum, who made the declaration said the region had learnt its lessons at a great cost in previous elections and would not repeat the same mistake.
He described the challenges of contemporary Nigeria as “unprecedented” demanding that the north must think out of the box and elect new sets of leaders who would do better than the present leadership.
Abdullahi stated this, yesterday, in his remarks as convener of Northern People’s Summit at Arewa House, Kaduna.
He urged people of the region to vote only for politicians who have socio-economic development plans for northerners, irrespective of tribe and religion.
This is as the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) lamented that the north lacked internal cohesion to produce quality leadership for the country.
Said Abdullahi: “Northern voters have supported three southerners, M.K.O Abiola, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan to victory in the past; two of them against northerners. Northern voters are enlightened and conscious of their responsibilities. They have learnt, perhaps at greater cost than most Nigerians, that ethnicity and faith alone do not make good leaders. They will not accept to be further weakened so that they abandon the same rights all Nigerians enjoy. Those politicians who want northerners to vote in a particular manner should soil their boots and convince northerners how their candidates will improve security, economy and society in the north and the country.
“I do not want to encourage complacency, so I must advise that the challenges we face today are unprecedented. They call for leaders and citizens to rise and collaborate to rid us of fear and the pains of daily existence. Northerners should lead the way to find solutions to northern problems and work with other Nigerians to find solutions to national problems. The world watches and worries over our mounting problems. No northerner should assume that he is guaranteed the support and votes of northerners simply because he is one of us. Our experiences have taught us the values of critical scrutiny of records, dispositions and empathy.”
He also advised those agitating to go their separate way to have a rethink, urging the government not to treat secessionist threats with levity. He said the north has paid a huge price for the survival and unity of Nigeria and would continue to support its survival to the degree that it serves everyone’s interests.
“Groups that threaten to walk out of this union should read our history again. We have all contributed to the development of every inch of Nigeria, and no group should contemplate ceding with our commonwealth. We do not see secession as a solution for any grievance, and we strongly advise our national leadership to take these threats with all the seriousness they deserve.
“We are naturally worried over alarming rhetoric suggesting serious elite polarisation and failure of the state to address basic elements that guarantee our co-existence. The north has its issues with Nigeria, but we believe they will be best addressed by Nigerians agreeing to collaborate and find solutions to them as well as those of other regions. Using restructuring as a threat or bargaining tool for accepting zoning will destroy the imperatives of restructuring and imperil the country. Politicians and leaders who desire to lead need to understand that Nigerians are watching what they do in their immediate constituencies that will entitle them to ask for our support. We should speak frankly and directly to the rest of Nigeria on this issue.”
The NEF boss also spoke on clashes between farmers and Fulaini herdsmen condemning the profiling of the ethnic group as terrorists.
“We must send a message to people who are bent on assaulting and killing our people that they are treading a very dangerous path, and they must stop. It is not acceptable that innocent northerners should be made pawns in political games because political elite cannot win support of their people without yielding grounds to thugs and political minions to intimidate northerners. It is not acceptable that any northerner should protect criminal Fulani, whether he operates in the north or south, and it is equally unacceptable that Fulanis who are not involved in criminal activities should be profiled, demonised murdered or expelled from communities.”
Abdullahi said politicians who cannot impose their influence on irredentists that threaten the corporate existence, lives and livelihoods of northerners stand limited chance of gaining the support of the region.
In the same vein, he said the region would not throw its weight behind politicians who cannot or would not influence public sentiments that demonises northerners and leaves them open to attacks.
“Politicians who want the support and the vote of northerner but will not raise their voices and act to protect him against underserved treatment in areas where they have power and influence should not expect to find our people with open arms when they ask for support. There will be no longer business as usual. Nigerians running away from bullets, stressing to make ends meet, or being made to fight each other instead of the real enemy will not forgive those who built the foundations of our circumstances today, and seek to sustain their privileges over our fears and pains. Leadership has to emerge on the basis of different criteria. Only the best leadership can pull Nigeria from the brink. We recognise that this leadership has to have identities, but its quality must be pre-eminently the most significant criteria for its evaluation. Every zone or region has major problems. Leaders from these zones who will not address these problems alone or in collaboration with others should know that they will be judged by their records in dealing with threats and how they turn them into opportunities for rebuilding a nation that shows all the traces of major distress. It is not enough to upbraid our leadership for the woes of the north. If some of them have failed us, our response should be to work to reduce the damage of that failure, and to put in place better quality of leaders in their places in future.
“We have been fortunate in having the best quality of intellect, experience and commitment at this summit to do justice to the search for solutions to our problems. This summit is non-partisan, and has been designed to specifically address our inherent plurality in the north. We should commit to be dispassionate and brave enough to acknowledge where the north bleeds, and why. We must be mature enough to accept our limitations as a people, and identify what our sources of strength are. We must give hope to Northerners that our current challenges will pass.”
Speaking on behalf of ACF, Deputy Chairman of ACF, Senator Ibrahim Ida said the north was at crossroad.
“We really need internal cohesion through elite consensus of what the north stands for the resources available and what we want to achieve. We have enemies within, we need to turn them around and make them see things our own way. There is absence of inclusion in the way we run our affairs.
“We are the fabric holding Nigeria together. We are being provoked. Let’s change the template, portray our interest in the way we want it. We must ensure at the end that nobody takes us for granted.”
Also speaking, former Speaker, House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’abba said: “Lots of people are eligible to contest but not suitable to lead. Leadership is not for everybody, it’s not an all comers affair, leaders must posses so many virtues.
“In 1999 when I realised that there was an agenda against the North, I did everything possible to ensure it didn’t succeed, but it was among our governors that I met one of the stiffest oppositions. Some of them because they wanted to come back, some because they wanted to become president, worked with the president who wanted to destroy the north.”